International Panel: Bridging Policy and Practice
A Focus on Teacher Preparation
Presentation 1: An Innovative Approach to In-service Teacher Education in Brazil
Carlos Francisco and Romulo Lins described the format and activities of Action-Research Groups (GPAs), Teaching Practice Courses for "working groups" of in-service teachers in Brazil, as well as a government-funded school development program where teachers are trained to conduct professional development activities in their schools. Carlos Francisco describes the GPAs and Teaching Practice Courses, then answers questions from the other participants. Following this, Romulo Lins describes the FDE-Foundation for School Development1-groups, and answers questions from the audience.
The GPA group's goal is to study the role of routines that lead to the failure of mathematics teaching in classrooms. The group focuses on teaching practice as an object of study. Members of the working group include mathematics and pedagogy undergraduate students (prospective teachers), mathematics graduate students (master's and doctorate), public and private teachers of elementary and secondary schools, and professionals that act in different areas of mathematics education. Sub-groups are arranged according to the interest in a theme. Examples of themes that have been selected as foci include Didactic Material, Integral Numbers, Financial Mathematics (Business Math / Accounting), Analytic Geometry, Introduction to Trigonometry, The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, Mathematics Education and Environmental Education, and Problem-Solving.
The members of the group work together to organize interventions related to several aspects of teaching, especially with regard to classrooms. The interventions arise from the teachers' own actions and experiences. Groups operate on an action-reflection-action model that is based on concrete situations. The interventions that are developed pay special attention to classroom issues related to emergent social and political issues. Each work-group establishes its action strategy and reports its developed activities to members of all of the other groups in a general meeting weekly, which is called the "Big Group." The "Big Group" is the forum for integrating all of the subgroups' experiences.
The following paragraphs describe the Action-Research in-service program from the perspective of the Environmental Education Group, in which Francisco was a member. This group studies issues related to several kinds of environmental degradation and designs school-based problem-solving interventions related to this theme. The group aims to stimulate mathematics teachers to view and utilize mathematics as an instrument to interpret reality in a critical/reflective way. Education is conceived as a vehicle of social progress and mathematics as a means of promoting greater consciousness. In other words, this group does not simply aim to promote education in mathematics (i.e., mathematics learning) but education through mathematics (i.e., higher consciousness and greater social responsibility). Members of the Environmental Education Group include elementary and secondary teachers, undergraduate students, graduate students, and professors.
Some of the issues for which the Environmental Education Group has developed classroom-based interventions at the elementary school level include:
Members of the working groups take a "Teaching Practice Course" in mathematics. These courses provide a fundamental experience in the education of prospective mathematics teachers (i.e., undergraduate students). The characteristics of these courses are similar to those of the GPAs. For example, prospective teachers develop a theme for their work (with a professor's help), decide the math content to be studied, and develop the work in the school (with a practicing mathematics teacher). In the first semester the prospective teacher develops work that will be carried out in the elementary school, and in the second semester work to be carried out in the secondary school. In accordance with the action-reflection-action model, experiences that occur during the intervention are reported and discussed with all of the students that take part in the course during the year. The different situations are integrated and analyzed in order to look for alternatives for current educational practices that are failing.
At the end of the course, the prospective teachers prepare monographs in which they describe their experiences. To assist in the preparation of the monograph, prospective teachers takes field notes when in the classroom. For example, a candidate might note characteristics of the school such as geographic and historic aspects, facilities, and staff. The prospective teacher may also generate a report on the intervention activities. Such reports generally contain information about the resources available in the classroom, the students' attitudes towards the work, the teacher's attitude towards the work, classroom management strategies and successes, and the procedures used during the intervention. Field notes may also contain appendices that display the materials used.
Groups with characteristics like the GPAs work as bridges between schools and mathematics education programs. They stimulate the educational practice in a cooperative way, looking for alternatives to the current teaching practice. In addition, they provide teachers with continuous training by leading them to frequently reflect on and revise their practice. The implementation of groups with characteristics similar to the GPAs in schools can bring strength and autonomy to the schools and stimulate education professionals to face many of the challenges that are present in their lives as educators. The continuous search for solutions to problems or questions about a determined theme adds to the teacher's responsibility for a didactic/pedagogical work contract inside the classroom and promotes the development of reflective mathematics educators.
GPA (Research Action Group) is an isolated group, but much can be learned from it. One strong feature is its location in the university. Another is that the people involved are going to be teachers, which can be an advantage and a disadvantage.
Another project in 1993 called the Foundation for School Development (FDE) tried to create a network of these groups. This foundation was linked to the state government of Sao Paulo. The groups were to address real questions and try to find real solutions to their problems. Fifteen math educators, called multipliers, were trained to develop and lead groups in their own schools. There was no financial reward for this.
The principles of group formation and function were to:
During the process many of the multipliers said that they came to see that training teachers involved more than telling them what to do. It also involved providing a rationale and explaining the decision-making process so that they can learn to do it as well.
The process took place in three phases. Phase 1 focused on "internal" development. Phase 2 focused on forming groups (i.e. recruiting 10-12 teachers for their group). Phase 3 was to involve systematic research, but this never happened because it was scheduled to occur in an election year. The funding was pulled to support a more concrete agenda that was promoted in the election. Another problem was the central role of the university in teacher training. Brazil has 300,000 math teachers. If 500 coordinators were available to oversee two groups each, then everyone could be reached. This project could operate on a local level or online. An infrastructure for disseminating work and materials that the groups produce is also needed.
Goals of the project are to promote reflective practice and cooperative work, raise awareness of complexity of decision making in teaching, improve teaching and professional development materials, and create a real and dynamic balance between practice and policies. Teaching is quite heavily dictated by the materials available for teachers' use. Teachers have all the power in classrooms and no power in policies. A tension exists between the ministry that makes policies and teachers who control classrooms.
Promises and Challenges Related to the Approach in Brazil
The seminar participants viewed Brazil's approach positively but also expressed concern about logistics and power relations between teachers and administrators. When they considered the approach in relation to their experiences with in-service activities, they especially appreciated the higher level of active involvement that this afforded teachers. They also felt that an approach with a local focus was more likely to be relevant to the teachers struggling with particular mathematical issues or with regional social issues that can intrude in the classroom. However, when the participants considered the approach in relation to their experiences with group activities and local initiatives, they worried about how difficult it can be to promote constructive collaboration among people unaccustomed to this type of activity. In countries where there are national curricula, some participants also worried that this approach may be perceived as subversive. In general, the participants agreed that the success of this approach would depend quite heavily on the topics discussed, who is in control, and what the people in the educational superstructure may do to support, prevent, incorporate, or overtake the groups and the process.
1 "Foundation for School Development" is a translation of the Portuguese phrase underlying the acronym FDE.
PCMI@MathForum Home || International Seminar Home || IAS/PCMI Home